Military parade caps Mexico's bicentenary fiesta
MEXICO CITY—A parade of military might Thursday capped huge celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Mexico's uprising against Spanish rule, which have been overshadowed by a brutal drugs war.
Supersonic F-5 fighter aircraft swooped over the capital to start the parade, including parachutists who floated down onto the vast main Zocalo square and Blackhawk and MI-17 helicopters used in anti-drug operations.
But even as millions shouted "Long live Mexico!" during nationwide festivities of fireworks and concerts, the daily violence was never far away.
Nineteen suspected gang members were killed in clashes with the military near the US border late Wednesday, when authorities also detained five people carrying grenades in the southeastern beach resort of Cancun.
Six hundred troops from 17 countries – some of whom are also marking their bicentenary celebrations in Latin America this year – joined Mexico City's parade, along with units from China, France, Russia, Spain, and the United States.
Second World War planes also took part, as well as female soldiers wearing outfits of peasant women who participated in the Mexican revolution.
The bicentenary coincides with one of the most violent campaigns tackled by Mexican security forces since the end of the revolution, from 1910 to 1917, which toppled dictator Porfirio Diaz and is also being celebrated this year.
"The collective sentiment is powerful in these difficult times," said Cara Salinas, as she watched the parade with her two sons.
Since President Felipe Calderon launched a controversial military crackdown on organized crime in 2006, drug-related attacks have escalated, leaving at least 28,000 dead with powerful gangs wielding terror through massacres, beheadings and car bombings.
Calderon on Thursday called on Mexicans to crusade against crime in a speech at the capital's Angel of Independence monument.
"Future Mexicans need to know that the bicentenary generation took on, with integrity, the challenge of being a society based on legality and order," the president said.
Earlier, Calderon reenacted the moment 200 years ago when priest Miguel Hidalgo urged his countrymen to rise up and overthrow their Spanish colonial masters.
As bells sounded, Calderon shouted out "Viva Mexico" -- Hidalgo's cry from the pulpit in the village of Dolores where he launched the 1810 uprising.
Eleven years later, in 1821, Mexico finally declared independence, some three centuries after the arrival of the Conquistadors along the coasts of the New World in the 16th century.
Mexico's festivities kicked off late Wednesday with a 40-million-dollar spectacle of fireworks, rock concerts and parades attended by tens of thousands in Mexico City, while millions joined nationwide fiestas.
Many revellers painted their faces the red, white and green of the flag as they watched floats and dancers travel down the main Reforma avenue, before spectacular fireworks lit up the night sky.
Unprecedented security measures included snipers on rooftops, but no major incidents were reported.
However some regions, hit by drug violence or devastating flooding, canceled or scaled down the celebrations.
In Ciudad Juarez, the country's most deadly city, the traditional independence ceremony took place behind closed doors for the first time, only shared with the public on television.
The city of Morelia, in the western state of Michoacan, also held a subdued ceremony after suspected drug gang members lobbed grenades at an independence day crowd there two years ago, leaving eight dead.
A bicentennial monument and park are still unfinished and have increased criticism of the government's focus on flashy projects, costing tens of millions of dollars, rather than on pressing issues like poverty reduction.
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